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shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.”
I am, &c.,
PRESBYTERIANISM AND INDEPENDENCY.
it, which you may
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ORTHODOX PRESBYTERIAN. SIR,
YESTERDAY, a friend put a tract into my hand, entitled, “A Comparative View of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational Systems, by James Carlile, Pastor of the Congregational Church, Belfast." I understand it has been for a short time in circulation, but I was not aware of its publication until I received it from him. Since then I have read it through carefully, and I send you a few thoughts upon
insert in your periodical, if you think them worthy of a place.
That Mr. Carlile was fully entitled to form and publish his sentiments, accountable only to God for them, cannot for a moment be doubted; and especially must it be granted, that the occasion for which he prepared them, justified his declaration of them. Yet I confess it is a subject of regret to me, that he has thought it necessary to invite the discussion of such a subject at the present time. The Presbyterian Churches of Belfast bave expressed a kindly feeling towards their Independent brethren ;-if I mistake not, it was in one of their places of worship Dr. Wardlaw preached, when he raised a collection for the Independent Chapel ;-and this spirit of kindness was cordially returned by the members of the Independent Church. To agitate any question that endangers the interruption of this kind feeling, appears to me of doubtful utility. It may produce alienation where it is most desirable the bonds of union should be drawn closer. It
excite controversy where concord would have served the interests of religion. Yet since he has taken the field, he cannot expect that his attack shall pass without notice.
I had thought, indeed, that this controversy was well nigh settled; and how Mr. Carlile could publish such sentiments as he has expressed, after what has been written on the subject, appears to me truly surprising. He tells us he has “ endeavoured to examine all the prominent features of the
prevailing systems of ecclesiastical polity,” and I entertain no doubt but he thinks he has done so. Yet how any man, who has really studied these systems, could express some of the sentiments contained in his discourse, is more than I can comprehend.
Passing by several of the fundamental principles laid down in the beginning of the discourse, in which Presbyterians concur as well as Independents, and many things of minor importance, I proceed to notice Mr. Carlile's view of church membership. He thus expresses it: “it is a fundamental principle of the Congregational System, that a Christian church should admit to the privileges of membership, only such persons as furnish satisfactory evidence of Christian character.'
Understanding this principle according to my own interpretation, I do not object to it. By satisfactory evidence, or, more correctly, all the evidence I can require or obtain, I mean a sound profession and a blameless life. To insist on more cannot be justified by any scriptural example. Philip required a profession of the faith from the eunuch, and John demanded of those who applied for baptism a consistent conduct, saying, “ bring forth fruits meet for repentance. These same things we are to require in all candidates for the fellowship of the church, but no more. If, on the other hand, Mr. Carlile means by his principle that the church is to sit in judgment on the conversion of the candidate, I wholly dissent from it. This is generally supposed to be the meaning, as understood by Independents ; but as Mr. Carlile has not avowed it so, I do not charge him with it. To judge of the conversion of a sinner is the prerogative of God only. He alone knows the heart. And the principle of Presbyterianism and of the Bible is, that the church shall receive candidates as professed Christians, but not as persons whom it has examined and found to be Christians. I wish it to be distinctly understood that it is only in this interpretation I can receive Mr. Carlile's principle.
Now this principle, he allows, may be acted upon by both Episcopalians and Presbyterians, provided their systems are not established by law; butif so established, he argues “they cannot maintain Christian fellowship.” Mr. Carlile has not assigned any reason for this opinion, and I regret it much ; for what reason could exist for their acting upon it, if not established, while they cannot do so, if established, is beyond my conjecture. Cannot the law of the land declare the whole system, either of Episcopacy or Presbyterianism, to be agreeable to
Scripture ? And might not one principle, in either, be that very one which he has laid down ? But his hypothesis is contradicted by fact. The Church of Scotland, established by law in that country, has the power, by its courts, to refuse admission to church-membership to any man in the kingdom, unless satisfied he is a fit and proper person to be so received. Of the exercise of such power an example occurred in the last Assembly, and was related in a late number of
Periodical. The fact of its establishment has not the slightest influence on the principle. It is amazing how prejudice against any principle blinds our eyes and leads us to attribute influences to it which it does not exert. When we take an offence against a neighbour, there is no limit to our suspicions of the mischief he must be doing; and it is in the same way that, when we conceive a prejudice against a prin. ciple, we fancy it must be productive of unnumbered evil influences. If Episcopacy and Presbyterianism can be sound without being established, they can be sound also with it. But although Mr. Carlile assigns no reasons for his hypothesis, yet he gives an illustration of it. He modestly informs us, that by these systems, “as practically managed in these lands, with some splendid, but, alas ! rare exceptions, Christian communion is not maintained ;-Christian character is not enjoined as essential to the enjoyment of membership in churches.". Now this charge is brought against Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, to the exclusion of Independency. The implied contrast is, that in the Independent churches there is communion, while there is not in the others. It is rather an inviduous mode of discussing a question, yet, since we are challenged to it, we must take our ground. "I ask then, does Mr. Carlile wish for a comparison between his own Church in Donegall-Street, and the Presbyterian Churches in Belfast? It will, perhaps, be found, that as many could be named in his communion, wanting satisfactory evidence of Christian character, as in any of the congregations of the Synod of Ulster or the Se cession Church, in proportion to its numbers. I grieve to write these things, but I am compelled to do so. Shall a man stand up and abuse
his neighbours for the very evils which are complained of, in himself. He lays himself open to the charge, “ Physician heal thyself." I allow that the Presbyterian Churches generally have been neglectful in this matter; but I maintain that Mr. Carlile's Church has been as much so. Does he know the history of his own Church for the last few years? I have sometimes met members of it, and heard them talk about pure communion. Some of these have been very activetoo, in endeavouring to proselyte our Presbyterian people; and the ground they have ever taken has been purity of communion. I only advise them, whenever they engage in these offices, to take care that they have clean hands themselves. Let any one who wishes to know the state of Independent Churches in other places, read the works of some of their divines on this subject, and judge from their complaints how matters stand. Mr. James, in his Church Member's Guide, takes rather different ground from Mr. Carlile ; for while he maintains the principle of Independency, in common with Mr. Carlile, he goes far to admit that, in point of fact, there is great reason for humiliation. It would have been much better, and more becoming, had Mr. Carlile united with his Presbyterian brethren in confessing their shortcomings in this matter, as they have been forward to do, and joined them in the honourable and vigorous effort which they are making for re-establishing purity of communion. I complain that he has instituted a most inviduous comparison, which the state of his own Church does not allow him to make. And I quote the following language from his discourse, believing it to be as applicable to himself, as to any minister in Belfast, in connexion with the Synod of Ulster or the Secession Synod"I do not hesitate to affirm, that he who proclaims in the pulpit, that faith alone unites to Christ, and that holiness is the fruit and manifestation of faith, while he administers Christian ordinances to those who are known to be destitute of this mark and manifestation of faith, and consequently of union with Christ, is a minister who preaches one Gospel while standing in the pulpit, and another Gospel, which indeed is not another, while stationed at its base.”
The next part of the discourse on which I think it necessary to remark, is the fifth fundamental principle, “that Christ has appointed office-bearers for his churches, and that the only officers intended to be permanent are bishops and deacons. In one interpretation, I do not object to this principle, though it is very indefinitely, if not incorrectly, expressed. The term bishops I understand generally to express both teaching and ruling elders, and in this I differ from Mr. Carlile. Deacons are officers who may exist in a church if its circumstances be such as to require their aid ; but Mr. Carlile errs in representing them as officers whose appointment is essential to the constitution of a church. It was not until they were rendered necessary by circumstances, that they were appointed by the apostles.
Here I pass over the inviduous comparison and misrepresentation contained in the following sentence : we are agreed in reference to deacons, with this important difference; we not only recognise in theory the office of deacons, but in all our churches there are persons appointed to sustain it; while they, recognising the office as divinely instituted, have suffered it to fall into almost universal disuse; having substituted for deacons, managing or congregational committees, an institution unknown to the churches of the primitive age.' We are the men! How humbling to read such a compliment to self, with an attack upon others! I have to inform Mr. Carlile that there is no such institution as a managing committee known to the Presbyterian Church in these days, any more than to the churches in the primitive age. We do sometimes appoint a committee to transact some worldly business, but such are never endowed with authority as office-bearers in the church. These have usually acted their part so faithfully, as to render the appointment of deacons unnecessary; and Mr. Carlile can give no proof that a church is bound to appoint such. It is quite dependent on circumstances. I have heard of a singing committee in an Independent congregation, and I have seen Independent ladies actively and laudibly engaged in collecting subscriptions for their meeting-house. Are these new church officers ? They are just as much so, as the committees which Presbyterians have sometimes thought proper to appoint. But I pass by these unkind and provoking reproaches, and join issue with Mr. Carlile on the question of elders. He says there is but one elder recognised in the Scriptures, and that he is the pastor of the church. In proof he cites Phil. i. 1, “To all the saints which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons," and argues that only the two officers are addressed. What egregious trifling! Was Mr. Carlile ignorant that under the general name of bishops Presbyterians included the two elders, those who rule exclusively, and those who both teach and rule ? The same is the answer to his second and only other argument, that instructions are given respecting the appointment of bishops and deacons only. By bishops I understand the two classes of elders. He tells us, indeed, he does not see the necessity for ruling elders ; that the pastor is quite sufficient for the spiritual duties of the church. In the small Independent churches in this country this may be true; but how any man, knowing the duties of the ministry, could suppose one man sufficient for attending to the spiritual concerns of several hundred per